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Life is returning to a semi-normal state with students attending class in-person, offices filling back up, and real estate demand proving to not only be resilient but booming. And while the pandemic has made predictions difficult, we do recognize some growing trends, many of which will become more prominent throughout this year and beyond.
In 2022 we expect to see expanded use of facility technology in collaboration with the continuing high demand for real estate. Whether you need to spot opportunities to accommodate the evolving needs of tenants or want to anticipate what shifts might lie ahead for your buildings, one thing is clear: physical environments will need to provide the in-building experience that stakeholders want, including a focus on available data, sustainability initiatives, and most importantly, indoor air quality and building health.
1. Healthier and smarter buildings driven by tenants
Since the onset of COVID, increased awareness of indoor spaces' impact on health has entered occupants' minds. They want to know that the air they are breathing is safe and offices are clean. And with good reason, as the CDC indicates, proper building ventilation is an essential virus fighter. If employees can't be home or outdoors, they will need the assurance of a safe out-of-home environment.
Coupled with the need for these healthier buildings is the need to make buildings more efficient with an eye on lowering costs. In addition to building owners seeking smarter, more efficient buildings, tenants and other stakeholders are becoming more interested in working, studying, or spending time in spaces that make the best use of resources.
Building owners who focus on providing healthier and smarter spaces will find greater opportunity to satisfy current tenants and recruit new occupants.
2. Healthy building standards will attract tenants and increase portfolio values
While healthy building standards are driven by tenants, they also attract new clients at higher premiums. In fact, the Real Estate Innovation Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that landlords of healthy buildings can collect between 4.4 and 7.7 percent more per square foot in rent than nearby, non-certified and non-registered peers. According to the study, this premium for healthy spaces is independent of other factors like LEED certification, building age, renovation, lease duration, and submarket. The results indicate that healthy buildings are considered an asset that correlates with well-being and productivity, and tenants are willing to pay a premium for such spaces.
Certification also captures the interest of those tenants’ employees and customers, who can lean on those tenants to choose spaces that are healthy, thereby effecting change.
Published guidelines for healthy building standards are established and well known in industry circles. These include:
Professional associations serving the industry are also in the game, offering advanced certifications for members. For example, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) offers several professional building designations. One of these is the High-Performance Building Design Professionals (HBDP) Certification that validates the competency to design and integrate sustainable HVAC systems into high-performing buildings. While it's not a building certification, the premise is that skilled individuals will guide landlords and other building management personnel, effecting change.
When building owners use adopted and certified standards, they will increase their bottom lines. But to truly utilize a healthy building technology to its full potential, owners and managers need to be consistent with the collection and analysis of data.
3. Data will be king
What good is data if you have no way to analyze it? Technology in the built environment is nothing new, but learning how to analyze and utilize data to provide continuous value in the built environment requires a new level of intelligent software.
Technologies to make buildings smarter were already well underway long before Covid-19. Via hardware and sensors that collect data, building owners have access to technology that can transform that data into meaningful findings, informing operational decisions in a more dynamic, built environment.
Moving forward, however, these technologies will become even more prominent, as building owners will leverage these insights to guide actions for more efficient, data-driven use of energy, maintenance, and other operational resources.
More than simply informing behind the scenes building operations, these data and insights will also actively drive decisions to improve occupant comfort and health.
While technology can adjust environments automatically with data, analytics, and automation tools, holistic platforms rather than one-off point solutions are needed—along with smart building professionals to configure them.
Advanced air quality and occupancy sensors will collect more data than ever before. However, to make buildings smarter, healthier, and more environmentally friendly, the integration of data sources needs to be combined with intelligent analytics and methods to take action.
Data needs to flow into a platform configured by building professionals to manage the indoor environments better. An intelligent building platform can connect disparate thermostats, air quality, occupancy sensors, and mechanical equipment to take action automatically.
Building operators need to engage smart building professionals. Owners need advice on the best solutions to utilize technology properly for their environments. A Master Systems Integrator (MSI) focuses on the client's desired outcome and target use cases. Then, using deep domain expertise, they advise what technology and data are required to achieve the results (comfort, energy optimization, air quality, cost savings). Building owners and managers should be wary of advisors that take a technology-first approach — the focus is on the stakeholder value proposition and how to best deliver it.
4. Sustainability remains a concern for building owners
With smarter buildings leveraging data and analytics for safety and efficiency, owners and tenants will leverage these same technologies to pay less for energy while keeping an eye on sustainability.
All traditional energy sources cost much more than they did a year ago. Demand for energy — transportation, shipping, and manufacturing — rebounded from the pandemic slump much faster than expected and drove prices through the roof.
For most of 2020 and well into 2021, people weren't entering and using buildings the way they had previously, decreasing energy consumption. However, while energy usage lowered, only a few buildings could truly optimize their costs based on reduced occupancy; they did not possess the intelligent systems to alter their consumption profiles and "hibernate."
In 2022, landlords and tenants will leverage technologies to minimize energy usage and reduce their carbon footprint. The goal is to allocate energy usage proportional to the capacity in use.
For further insights into sustainability, technologies exist that help utility customers determine whether they source their energy from renewable sources. Using these technologies, property owners can buy energy only when renewables are available, helping meet corporate sustainability goals and reducing their carbon footprints.
5. The workplace as an experience will drive building management
Finally, how people expect to engage with their out-of-home spaces will dictate the amenities and capabilities owners and managers will make available within a building.
The Great Resignation has made it apparent that people prioritize their physical and mental health when choosing employment. These choices will also be aligned with the building environments in which they might find themselves working.
Since the future of work will likely be hybrid, employees will come to the office with focused intentions. Since many people will continue to have the option to work remotely, the office will instead need to provide a space for specific uses – i.e., in-person client meetings or team collaborations. In this way, the office becomes a destination for meaningful and purposeful interactions.
More efficient, safer, and healthier smart buildings are on the horizon for 2022.
Gina Elliott is Chief Services Officer for Buildings IOT.